In their first one-on-one interview since viewing horrific footage of their son’s in-custody homicide at the hands of eight Collin County, Texas, jailers on March 14, the parents of Marvin Scott III told Truthout that their son experienced a “whole day of torture” instead of receiving the help he needed during a mental health crisis.
The five-hour video, which lacked audio, was so horrible, LaSandra Scott tells Truthout, that, “They might as well have just shot him so it could be over quick,” emphasizing the hours of suffering her son went through. “These people need to go to jail, and they need to go to jail now, as we speak.”
Police in Allen, Texas, arrested the 26-year-old Marvin Scott III, who was Black, on a marijuana possession charge March 14 after finding him sitting next to a single joint at the Allen Premium Outlets mall. From there, his family and their attorney say, police took him to the Allen city jail. When they began noticing strange behavior, they transferred him to Allen Presbyterian Hospital.
Marvin III had been diagnosed with schizophrenia two years prior. After more than a year without an episode, his parents believe his initial interaction with officers triggered a relapse.
A doctor who evaluated Marvin III at Allen Presbyterian determined he was fit for custody, his parents and attorney say, and he was taken to Collin County Jail. He would not make it out alive.
The family says six jailers participated in torturing him, attempting to strap him to a restraint bed, pepper-spraying him and covering his face with a spit hood as he rapidly deteriorated and eventually died.
The Collin County medical examiner officially ruled Marvin III’s death a homicide last week, more than a month after he was killed. Marvin III’s cause of death, according to Collin County Medical Examiner Dr. William Rohr, was “fatal acute stress response in an individual with previously diagnosed schizophrenia during restraint struggle with law enforcement.” A final autopsy report is still pending release. He had been in custody for at least 10 hours, the family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, says.
“After viewing the video, and then we were released to go home, and then you reflect on what you just saw and take it all in, oh my God. It was worse than anything you can imagine,” Marvin III’s father, Marvin Scott Jr., told Truthout. Instead of getting him the mental health support he needed, Marvin Jr. says, the jailers instead “‘helped’ him to an agonizing death.”
Marvin III, his parents say, was never violent or threatening, even during mental episodes in which he experienced delusions or hallucinations. “He’d just get really anxious and start talking about things that weren’t true,” LaSandra says. “When we would see that coming on, we would get him help.”
Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner fired seven jailers and another resigned after the in-custody homicide. One of the jailers has since been reinstated, however, through the state’s Civil Service Commission process, a decision the sheriff has said he disagreed with.
Last week, The Dallas Morning News obtained and published the names of eight jailers, despite efforts by the Collin County Sheriff’s Office to keep the names secret. In its appeal to the state attorney general to deny the paper’s public records request, the office argued that releasing the names could interfere with an active criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers. Sheriffs also told The News the office could not comment on the possibility of arrests due to the Ranger investigation. The Collin County district attorney’s office likewise told The News it does not comment on pending cases.
The paper then turned to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, seeking the names of the jailers who were fired or resigned on April 1. The Commission requires law enforcement agencies to file reports when officers or jailers are terminated or resign. The Commission provided the following eight names: Blaise Mikulewicz, Austin Wong, Justin Patrick, Rafael Paradez, James Schoelen, Alec Difatta, Andres Cardenas and Christopher Windsor.
LaSandra and Marvin Jr. expressed dismay at the reinstatement of one of the jailers, whose identity remains unknown, telling Truthout he shouldn’t have been able to appeal his termination through the state’s Civil Service Commission while an active criminal investigation is still playing out. “Is that even possible, or is there some type of loophole?” LaSandra says. “There’s no way these individuals need to be walking around talking about, ‘I want my job back.’ We’re in disagreement of that, because if you see something, do something,” she said, referring to the two jailers who weren’t actively engaged with Marvin but still present.
The family’s attorney, Merritt, is working to obtain video footage of the events leading up to Marvin III’s in-custody homicide, including any video showing his initial interaction with Allen police at Premium Outlets mall. This could include security footage from the mall’s North Face store and body-worn and dash camera footage from Allen police. He’s also working to obtain video showing what happened during Marvin III’s time at the Allen jail, the Allen Presbyterian Hospital and during transport. The family plans to file a federal civil rights claim once they have the videos and after the conclusion of law enforcement agencies’ criminal investigations.
“Allegedly he was restrained [at the Allen city jail] in a chair for 11 minutes, so we need to see what happened to our son and how he was treated there before going to the hospital,” LaSandra says.
It’s also imperative to understand Marvin III’s initial interaction with Allen police at the mall. The fact that he was arrested for such a small amount of marijuana, especially as surrounding counties like Dallas are no longer arresting people for personal possession of small amounts, is crushing, the family says. “It was very petty for the officers to apprehend him without giving him a warning because knowing that in other counties, that wasn’t an issue,” LaSandra says.
Merritt tells Truthout he’s encouraging the Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis to release the video to the public and that, based on the footage, there’s enough probable cause for an arrest. Still, he says, prosecutors are concerned “about tampering the jury pool through release of the video, and there’s concern that they have not received a complete file from the Texas Rangers.”
While some attorneys have argued that a death caused by acute stress response may not amount to criminal liability because of Marvin III’s preexisting mental illness, Merritt says the causality is clear: The jailers caused the stress which caused Marvin III’s death. He compared the rationale to defense attorneys who argued George Floyd died of car exhaust instead of Derek Chauvin’s knee. Further, he says, there was clearly reckless indifference and negligence on the part of the jailers, who violated procedures and training on detecting and responding to people who are having mental episodes.
“Cases like this very often result in a natural causes [of death] finding when there’s a preexisting condition or an enlarged heart. We saw that go back and forth a lot in the George Floyd case, so having an initial finding of homicide is important,” Merritt says. “My federal experience has taught me, repeatedly, that the medical examiner’s statements were very strong in favor of criminal accountability.”
In any case, prosecutors will have to present medical experts to a grand jury that will decide whether the jailers’ actions were unlawful. Arrests in jail-related, in-custody deaths are rarely made before a grand jury reviews evidence, and a grand jury trial is likely still weeks away.
“As we reach day 50 since Marvin died, we’re starting to lose faith in the local prosecutors” due to “their failure to act,” Merritt says. Normally, he says he would anticipate the Department of Justice stepping in, as has happened in other, more high-profile cases. However, one of the jailers, Blaise Mikulewicz, worked for the FBI for 23 years prior to joining the Collin County Sheriff’s Office, so Merritt says he’s cautious about turning to the federal level for recourse.
Marvin Jr. says that while he feels good about how Collin County DA Willis has handled the case so far, he feels the Texas Rangers investigation, in contrast, has been more tightly controlled and less transparent. The parents say they haven’t heard an update from the Rangers since they initially spoke in the immediate aftermath of the homicide. They also say they never received a call from law enforcement about their son in the days following his murder.
LaSandra tells Truthout that after the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the death of her son on a Sunday afternoon in March, she was directed to call the Texas Rangers to find out what happened. She didn’t hear back from the Rangers, she says, until about 8 pm that evening to set up a meeting for the following Tuesday. “So we went not knowing for all of those days, which is totally disrespectful and not the process on how you do things. We should have heard from law enforcement initially, and they could have taken things from there. It was so insensitive.”
The Texas Rangers investigation, Marvin Jr. says, has been very secretive. “Everything is being investigated, and it’s just kept hush-hush. They don’t say nothing. You can’t talk about this, you can’t talk about that, because it’s pending investigation, and I understand that,” Marvin Jr. says. “I don’t want to mess nothing up. But I’m a father who lost a son, and I need everybody to know about this, so this don’t happen to nobody else.”
Despite the grisly details surrounding the in-custody homicide, the case hasn’t gained as much national traction as other law enforcement-perpetrated killings making headlines in the aftermath of the Chauvin verdict last month. That may be partly because video of the homicide has yet to be released, and partly because in-custody deaths in county jails are sometimes harder to shine a spotlight on. That’s something the Scott family wants to change.
“Even though it’s just as horrific as all the other cases, it’s a little bit different because it was behind closed doors. There’s no bodycam. There’s a camera, but there’s no bodycam,” Marvin Jr. told Truthout, noting that body-worn camera footage is often released to the public more quickly. “I think it’s that difference that’s keeping his story kind of quiet. I think [law enforcement likes] that. They don’t want all the attention on this case. But we need the attention on the case. People need to hear about it. I do want it to go national.”
Attorney Merritt believes that Marvin’s III case isn’t trending the way other cases are because of the stigmatization of incarcerated people and those already in custody. “If Marvin was killed at the Outlet mall, I believe that case would garner more attention. But when someone dies in an in-custody death, most people have a knee-jerk, conditioned response that that’s a ‘bad’ person who did a ‘bad’ thing, and it’s kind of their own fault if they’re in jail.”
Until more video evidence and information is released, the family says they will continue protesting alongside local supporters every Tuesday and Thursday outside the Collin County Jail and marching on the weekends elsewhere in the area, including the Premium Outlets mall. “As long as we can continue [protesting], they can’t sweep it under the rug,” Marvin Jr. says.
Protesting, they say, also helps them endure the other traumas and hardships they’ve carried since Marvin III’s murder in mid-March. LaSandra, a home health nurse, says she hasn’t been able to work under the weight of her grief. “We barely working. We barely can make it,” she says. “It’s disrupted me because it’s so traumatic. I can’t even think…. I can’t possibly take care of anybody at this point. It’s depressing. The most horrible feeling one could ever have, surrounding these awful circumstances. It’s hard to get the proper rest. It’s hard to think about what you need to do.”